News Article Details

Mom says son experiences the world differently

News Courier - 4/22/2019

April 21-- Apr. 21--When Matthew Shelby of East Limestone was growing up, he wasn't aware he had autism. In fact, it was only when someone asked him how it felt to be autistic that he thought about it.

"I didn't consider myself autistic," Matthew said. "I considered myself normal."

His mother, Katrina Shelby, said it was his normal.

"He didn't think anything of it," she said.

Matthew, 17, is a senior at East Limestone High School, where he shares classes as his neurotypical classmates. He said his favorite parts of the school day are lunch and algebra.

While one could guess why he likes lunch, Matthew said he likes algebra because he likes solving problems and doing math.

"I like to work on it all the time," he said.

For the most part, he enjoys being a student. He has a hard time ignoring certain noises that he finds annoying, but he wears headphones to block out the sound.

Matthew recently attended his senior prom, where he danced and hung out with friends. He said he had a "very good time."

"He had a smile when he came out," Katrina said, adding she sat in the car during the event.

Matthew's next step out of high school is college. Katrina said he plans on attending Calhoun Community College.

"He enjoys going to school, so we are going to let him go in some form or fashion," she said. "The goal is for him to be as independent and successful as he can be."

In the beginning

Katrina didn't know Matthew had autism early on. She realized something was happening when he was around age 2.

Even though Matthew knew words, he wouldn't speak or voice his needs. Instead, he would point.

At that time, Katrina said, she was taking child development classes in her studies to become an elementary teacher and realized Matthew wasn't meeting milestones. Some family members would tell Katrina that Matthew would do things in his own time, but she could tell something was different.

In preschool, he tested way behind in development, Katrina said. The family was living in Mississippi, and Matthew didn't receive a diagnosis for autism at the time. However, he was allowed into the early intervention program.

Matthew was first diagnosed shortly after the family moved to Arizona. Matthew was preparing to enter kindergarten. He was behind other children his age developmentally, and it wasn't just speech he had to work on, but also things like holding a pencil and cutting with scissors.

Through the years, Matthew had speech and occupational therapy to help him develop his skills.

"Now he does as well as anyone," Katrina said.

Katrina said Matthew didn't take part in applied behavioral analysis, a method of therapy used to improve or change specific behaviors. She said she simply couldn't afford it.

At the time, the family's household income put them in an area where they made too much for financial assistance but not enough to pay for the services out of pocket. Instead, they did a lot of research and worked with the school systems.

"We did our best," she said.

Race in diagnosis

A report by the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network found white children are more likely to be diagnosed with autism than black or Hispanic children, sometimes leading to greater barriers between minority groups and services.

However, Katrina said she doesn't feel like that played a role in her son's diagnosis.

"I'm noticing more and more African-American children diagnosed," she said. "Symptoms are more well-known now, I think."

Katrina said she is reminded of members of her family saying, "nothing is wrong" or "he will talk when he's ready."

"That's what people think if they don't know," she said, adding more people know the signs of autism now. "Now, parents are more likely to get our children tested."

Not the same

Katrina said one thing she wished everyone knew is one person with autism is not the same as another person with autism. One child's characteristics might be different from another child, she said.

"Autism to me is just a different way of experiencing the world," Katrina said. "My son is experiencing things differently."

She said sometimes it's good and sometimes it's negative, "but it's not a bad thing."

"He is a cool kid," Katrina said. "He is quirky and has a great sense of humor. He loves puns, classic cartoons and music. He is also a classic middle child, who is a caretaker for his younger and older brother. I think he is awesome."

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(c)2019 The News Courier (Athens, Ala.)

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